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Climate change has a moral dimension that can't be ignored

  • Author: Matt Schultz
  • Updated: June 29, 2016
  • Published August 16, 2015

Religion and science both deal in mystery and wonder as we seek to make sense of the vastness of the world. There are times when the scale of the universe is too big. It's hard to fathom infinity; even a scale such as a hundred years can be difficult to digest.

When faced with the topic of climate change, skepticism was a natural response. There was a time when more studies were appropriate. There was a time when it was reasonable to question if it was human-caused. There was a time when it was understandable to think the effects were so far in the future that it seemed unreal.

That time has passed. What once may have seemed like a far-off, abstract problem is now visible in our daily lives, and the ability to deny it is disappearing as quickly as the glaciers around us.

Recognition of an impending crisis means accepting responsibility to avert it. Ethics vary from religion to religion, but there are some things on which nearly every religion agrees. One is that we are to care for others. Another is that this care is active: It is not sufficient to simply do no harm. We are called to the higher purpose of actively caring for others. If we are aware of impending harm coming to someone, we are duty-bound by the ethics of our religious beliefs to take action to prevent that harm. This ethic of active care binds us together despite the differences in our belief systems.

We look to science to tell us the facts about how the world functions. We look to religion to find our meaningful response. As we accept the fact that the climate is changing and that we are the main cause, we look to our common religious ethics to inspire us to act on behalf of those who will be most aversely affected: The poor.

People who are socially, economically, culturally, politically, institutionally or otherwise marginalized are especially vulnerable to climate change, according to a U.N. report. Climate change's impacts will continue to be broad and deep, and the poor are less able to shield themselves or to adapt as the changes come. Shortages in food supply and increases in extreme weather conditions will be felt most by those without the means to protect themselves.

Along with sharing the ethic of care for others, most religions share a "preferential option for the poor," that is to say, while we are called to provide care for all people, we are especially called to provide care for those who do not have the means to care for themselves. We all share the duty to protect the vulnerable.

As faith leaders in Alaska, we accept this responsibility, and we call on all Alaskans to join us in serving the poor and vulnerable by caring for our environment. We begin with the hope that the state continue and expand support for renewable energy development. Further, we request that our state governmental leaders focus strong attention on climate change, that they assist communities with adaptation, and that they help Alaskans plan for a healthy, sustainable future.

We also see the upcoming Arctic conference as a great opportunity for Alaska to assume its natural place as a leader on this issue. As President Obama said of his upcoming visit, Alaska is on the front lines of this crisis. No one knows fossil fuels better than Alaskans do. No one witnesses firsthand the powerful effects of climate change more readily than Alaskans do. And no one has a spirit with more strength and ingenuity than Alaskans do: Alaskans take care of others, and find paths forward where others turn back.

Rev. Matt Schultz is pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Anchorage. Parties that have signed on to support what is written here include the faith-based groups Better Together and Christians for Equality, and the individuals Rev. Max Lopez-Cepero, Candace Bell and Rev. Michael Burke.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

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